For our patronal festival I preached about letting the eyes of our hearts be a guide to the need within our community – a need which we can meet in a simple way, yet which feels huge to the person on the receiving end!
If we let the eyes of our heart guide, what do we actually see? I have been reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. He writes about trees as social beings with a sense of community and has literally brought trees to life for me! I was incredibly struck by the apparent echoes there are in creation as so much life was created to be in community…and yet it feels like we don’t do community as well as we could. How often do we help for no other reason than for the good of someone else? How often do we forget looking out for ourselves and bettering our own ends? How often do we see need and respond to it?
This led me to think about the film Pay it Forward where a young boy responds to his Social Sciences project of ‘Think of a way to make the world a better place and put it into action’ with the idea of doing something for three people that they would not be able to do for themselves, and asking only that they similarly do something for three other people. The exchange of help becomes about hundreds of people rather than just between a few individuals.
What if we lived more like this? What if we gave for the love of giving and loved as Jesus loves? What if we seek love not war? Would it make a difference? #actofrandomkindness
I have begun a journey with a book titled Eyes of the Heart – this is an eight week journey into contemplative photography. This is something that I have almost instinctively found and begun to develop independently, but it is marvellous to read about how someone with a very similar heart to my own has made sense of using photography as a form of prayer.
This week focuses on beholding aspects of life. There were two main meditations to complete: the first to take 50 photographs of an item that you are familiar with and; secondly to limit yourself to one photograph a day which truly beholds a shimmer of God in our world. It has been amazing to have such a focus on my contemplative prayer, and I chose to behold my pen.
After taking the first 20 or so photographs, I wondered how I was going to find 50 photographs to take of such a small object – I think it was shortly after this that the beholding really began. I started to think where and how I used my pen, and photographed it with those items as well. I also began to think about my relationship with my pen – I often feel that my writing is divinely inspired and I wanted to find a way to depict that divine meeting the material in some way. I began to play with shutter speeds and focus of lens, and it produced some pictures that I really felt brought that divine inspiration to light. Equally I thought about my own emotions when trying to write: sometimes there is flow, other times impatience, others still there can be a lack of inspiration.
By the time I had got to 50 photographs, it felt like I was just getting started! Here is a selection of the photos – 50 seemed a few too many. What do you see when you look at them? Is it just a photograph of a pen, or do you see more to it? Could you try this meditation with something which is important to you? Good luck if you do!
The following was written as a response to accompanying someone in the last moments of their life. I have remembered it this week in response to leading an All Souls service where the veil between heaven and earth felt quite thin at times…
One meets another
Light shines forth
HaShem with us
Less one life
Hand in hand
Side by side
Earthly home fades
“As Christians, we have become so fixated on our roles as servants that we miss out on the relationships of mutuality that the Spirit wants to knit between people.”
Craig Greenfield: Subversive Jesus
Ancient custom decrees shaking
shoe dust at unwelcome faces.
such as this seeks to acknowledge
hostility which replaces
where shoe shakes supersede handshakes!
Such tradition comes not without
before final demonstration
of submission to one’s wishes
What brought me to stand at your door
and desperately shake dust off
my shoes, with the bitter taste of
betrayal tainting highlights of
our history – our childhood and shared
experience? What? Where? When? Why?
Why use this powerful method
of communication to end
all future destructive attempts?
Few know how to truly hurt me,
yet you have long since scrutinised.
I marvel at such attention.
The impact of pain, exclusion,
petty point scoring runs so deep…
Such consideration deserves
the response long meditated
upon, negotiated for.
A shame those involved knew nothing
of your game, such acquiescence.
Of innocent participants?
Mere cannon fodder to you now
And yet I still forgive you – yes…
but to forget would be foolish.
So I shake the dust off my shoes,
turn away never to return.
As this ritual requires.
The room was huge – bigger than
you might be able to envisage,
stretching as long as it was wide
It seemed to go on and on…
goodness knows what it was
before this destruction?
A banqueting hall perhaps,
which would make more sense
of the ceramic debris covering the floor!
Eyes took a few moments to adjust
to the poor lighting as they looked in
from the old heavy double doors.
Windows, covered by dense curtains,
allowed only a few shards of light
to break through the cracks
and the electricity of the industrial
revolution was yet to arrive
in this once fine and grand palace.
All that remained of such grandeur
were these shattered pots now
littering the floor, buried in dust.
Different shapes, sizes,
colours and patterns
reflected the diverse range
of ceramics they had once styled.
And now this was all just rubbish,
they could never be pieced together
to return to their previous existence.
They were broken and useless
with no further vessel potential…or was there?
What might it be like if each of
these pieces were gathered
together to form one single vessel?
The vision, small at first, grew beyond
all reckoning – it became an obsession!
Slowly initially, then more intentionally,
hands gathered individual pieces and
gently wiped away dust and traces of decay
before placing them carefully
and purposefully alongside one another.
Dust stirred up as feet tentatively pushed
broken pottery aside, deliberately
taking care not to add further damage
to these precious pieces, as they moved
deeper into the room to seek and gather.
An initially small and seemingly
insignificant workspace spread
as clutter gained a sense of sequence.
The sound of steady breathing alongside
a light chinking and clinking of ceramic
pieces making contact was all that
accompanied the silence
in the vast banqueting hall.
The divine artist worked unceasingly
to form broken fragments into a
vessel of unique splendour and artistry;
pieces fused together with golden lacquer
took on a greater depth and charm
than had ever emanated from them
in their previous existences!
Brokenness led to beauty as
the divine artist gathered, shaped
and moulded the pieces of pot like clay.
Never before had anything like it
been crafted or created but as eyes
observed the work of their hands
and saw the immense light that the
powerful vessel had been built around,
they looked and saw that it was good.
And then they rested!
I have been on annual leave this week and spending a very relaxing week in Sorrento, seeing the sights and sampling the delights of the surrounding areas – I never believed it would be possible to be sustained on a diet of pizza and gelato, but it seemed important to try it out!
I don’t speak Italian at all, and have never been to Italy before. As soon as we arrived I felt out of my comfort zone with languages being spoken around me that I did not understand, people ushering me through before I really knew what was expected of me. I learned grazie very quickly, but that was as far as it went. I noticed that I became incredibly shy, not really feeling confident to ask for things and tentative to step out from pavements. I was more aware of things going on around me, and soon realised that I was no longer on auto pilot – I was displaced, or dislocated, and acting accordingly.
This can be a positive experience, but it can also be negative depending on the circumstances. For me on holiday it was of course positive, and I enjoyed being more aware of all that was happening around me, but this heightened attentiveness can be extremely tiring. I was drawn to thinking about those who may need to live in this state for some time due to circumstances beyond their control such as refugees and asylum seekers. Current UN figures suggest that 28,300 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution – a fact which I find completely mind-blowing and which has been a huge focus of prayer for me this week.
I wanted to understand more about these new surroundings and find out what situations have helped to shape this society – perhaps that is a normal tourist thing to do, and the tourism industry makes it very easy for you to find out about popular or well known places and events.
Pompeii was an obvious place to begin, and was a stark reminder of unforeseen circumstances which can lead to unthinkable loss.
This was a cast of someone found during excavation centuries after Vesuvius erupted and yet the fear within seems to have somehow been preserved…
It can also be fascinating to look round and see who you are exploring the past with – and what findings might mean for each of us. I became more aware of individual uniqueness, shaped by society and culture, but also standing separate from it at times.
Herculaneum was the next trip. Whilst a much smaller excavation site, this was evidence of a richer people also devastated without warning.
Following this, we went to Naples for the day – that was a completely different experience and not entirely positive. Without the protection and comfort of guides and other tourists making up the masses, Naples felt slightly scary – especially when we happened upon a whole street seemingly dedicated to selling rubbish and illegal items. After a two hour search for somewhere for lunch, and countless moments of feeling vulnerable and seeing people stare at us, we headed back to eat near the station. There was something incredibly insightful about that negative experience of being in an unfamiliar place though, and feeling so incredibly lost whichever direction we took.
Not understanding what something meant was a common occurrence. We saw this “J’existe” statement a lot in graffitied areas, and I wondered who was seeking affirmation of their existence in this society? Who gets lost in the crowds in our societies?
Following the Naples excursion we returned to Sorrento by ferry, and what a beautiful experience that was. The sea was such a comfort from the streets of Naples, as was the beautiful sunset, drawing us back into its light.
There was so much beauty surrounding Sorrento, especially in areas which managed to escape the crowds, and so much to explore. Whilst there will always be much more to see, I found it interesting that deep in my knowing I was drawn to places of peace and calm, and away from the crowds.
My natural leanings are towards solitude; that gives me a greater responsibility to find the balance between being in the world and seeking to understand it and being slightly separate from it, following the ways of God instead – it is such a difficult balance but one which is well illustrated in the experience of the tourist. How do you manage to stay true to your identity and experience which has shaped you, whilst also embracing the other that now surrounds you? As my poem Torn on Tea begins to explore, this new and different surrounding can be intoxicating and mesmerising, and even where our formative experiences seem less interesting, they will continue to be the ones that we most understand and draw us back to who we are….